It often seems that the more Hollywood’s special effects technology improves the worse the storylines and characters of the films they’re used in become. Not so with “Rampage,” which raises the bar on blockbuster entertainment, offering a wow-inducing time at the movies by following its own bizarre internal logic and featuring well-motivated characters with brains and heart.
The film stars Dwayne Johnson as a US Special Forces soldier-turned-primatologist named Davis Okoye (yes, you read correctly) who teams with a giant albino gorilla named George to save Chicago from a 30-foot-tall flying wolf-bat creature and a massive alligator with giant spikes that has about five sets of thousand-foot-long teeth.
The fun kicks off on Athena-1, a research space station where a genetic manipulation experiment called Rampage is being secretly conducted by a company called Energyne. The experiment mixes together the most aggressive traits of all manner of animals, bugs and insects and fuels them with a pathogen that makes the resulting critters grow and get aggressive.
It’s never exactly made clear just why anyone would think this is a good idea, especially when it costs billions of dollars and things can only go wrong, but just go with it. Problems begin when a shadowy monster that looks like a rat crossed with a giant boar breaks free and kills all but one crew member — a scientist who flies off in an escape pod while carrying all the samples that didn’t break free and go nuts.
The escape pod blows up anyway and all of the samples hurtle toward Earth, looking like asteroids as they land in rural Wyoming, the Florida Everglades and a knockoff of the San Diego Wild Animal Park where Davis and George are based. As the Wyoming crash creates the giant wolf-bat, the alligator with spikes comes out of Florida and George turns into King Kong’s albino twin.
The evil brother and sister team who head Energyne turn on a low-frequency radio signal that drives their creatures crazy and beam it from the top of the Sears Tower, hoping to draw the monsters to that one centralized spot in the hopes of having the military destroy the creatures for them, before selling the leftover splattered DNA.
It’s up to Davis and geneticist Kate Caldwell, a disgruntled former Energyne worker who knows about the experiments, to beat the military to Chicago and save George while whomping the bad monsters. That effort and the resulting battle royale make for some of the most impressive creature-combat scenes ever committed to the screen, with plenty of laughs along the way.
It’s impossible to take this movie seriously, and Johnson and the rest of the “Rampage” team know it. By embracing the insanity of their storyline, which is loosely based on a video game yet feels completely fresh, they commit to just showing the audience a great time.
Johnson is just about the only movie star who can pull off this kind of thing, since his impressive physique and willingness to mix wisecracking with gravitas at even the most absurd moments makes him a truly unique talent. He’s a walking, talking cartoon character himself, always in on the joke yet committing every ounce of his energy to the role.
Teaming with director Brad Peyton for the third time after smash hits “Journey 2: The Mysterious Island” and “San Andreas,” Johnson has clearly found his partner in crime for fun cinematic destruction. Their combination of over-the-top ludicrousness with masterful effects, and the occasional semi-serious moment, runs rings around soulless, generic crap like the “Transformers” movies and creates entertainment to remember.
Seriously, just about anyone could stand a good dose of this movie. You’ll have plenty of laughs, say “wow” about a dozen times, and want to jump out of your seat both from cheering and being scared. In other words, just turn off your brain and get in touch with your inner child and the feeling you had the first time you saw “Star Wars.”
Yes, it’s that good.
a quiet place
Stars: John Krasinski, Emily Blunt
Length: 90 minutes
Directed by: John Krasinski
This brilliant, game-changing horror film also offers thoughtful reflections on family and the desire to survive, making this likely to be one of the year’s top 10 films. Former sitcom star John Krasinski steps up to write, direct and co-star (with award-worthy wife Emily Blunt) this story of a family forced to live in silence or risk immediate death from sharp-hearing aliens. Grade:A
Stars: Leslie Mann, John Cena, Ike Barinholtz
Length: 102 minutes
Directed by: Kay Cannon
This raunchy comedy follows three teenage girls who are lifelong best friends and make a “sex pact” to all lose their virginity on prom night, and the parents who find out and will try anything to stop them. A feminist flip on the “American Pie” franchise, this film is often funny, but those who are easily offended should steer clear. Grade:B
Stars: Jason Clarke, Kate Mara, Jim Gaffigan, Ed Helms
Length: 101 minutes
Directed by: John Curran
This shocking historical drama is the first cinematic exploration of the notorious 1969 incident in which a drunk Sen. Ted Kennedy left Mary Jo Kopechne to drown after crashing his car into a river. The movie’s detailed exploration of Kennedy’s multi-layered, ruthless attempts to cover-up his actions and the effect he had on friends he dragged into his scheme is an intense, riveting drama with sterling performances. Grade:A
ISLE OF DOGS
Stars: Voices of Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton
Length: 101 minutes
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Despite intriguing storytelling concepts and an excellent soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat, Wes Anderson’s tale of a boy and his dog is set in a Japan plagued by old dated American notions, including a white savior complex. Grade:C
– reviewed by Jana Monji
READY PLAYER ONE
Stars: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn
Length: 140 minutes
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Easily Spielberg’s biggest crowd-pleaser since the 2002 combo of “MInority Report” and “Catch Me If You Can,” “Ready” imagines a 2045 America in which everyone is obsessed with a Virtual Reality universe called The Oasis and follows a team of young adults racing an evil corporation in a competition that can control society and win them $500 billion. Exciting and funny with tons of heart, this is a guaranteed blockbuster. Grade:A